The Greatest BJJ Competitor: Past, Present and Future
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has a competitive history going back decades. In our quest to find the best BJJ competitor in each time period, we will start at the beginning, almost 100 years before the formation of the IBJJF in 2002.
The Best First Generation BJJ Competitor
Before Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was codified as a sport, the individual BJJ competitor relied on challenge matches against other martial artists from other disciplines. In the early days, the Gracie family held intense feuds with local academies, as well as Judokas from Japan. Although results were mixed in this arena, Jiu Jitsu fighters showed their true prowess when competing in Vale Tudo, no rules matches. These Vale Tudo matches would eventually give birth to MMA as we know it, where BJJ gained it’s notoriety. Here, we pay homage to the earliest of these fighters, and the best: Helio Gracie
Helio Gracie, the greatest BJJ Competitor of the Past
Although Helio does not have the same resume as many other Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitors, he is credited with making our art famous. He did so by fighting challenge matches against almost anyone, no matter their size or reputation. Helio was slight of build, and generally physically unimpressive. However, despite his stature he was able to both match and overcome much larger and physically stronger opponents. This is what gave credibility to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and without his performances on the mat, UFC 1 likely would never have happened.
Masahiko Kimura, although technically not a Jiu Jitsu competitor, must be mentioned. Born in Japan, 1917, Kimura was a Judo specialist. On October 23, 1951 Kimura would square off with Helio Gracie in an effort to discredit the Gracie lineage of Jiu Jitsu. The match ended with Kimura breaking Gracie’s arm with the armlock that would come to be named after him. Although the match ended in defeat for Gracie, their school claimed it as a moral victory, sighting Helio’s toughness and will to continue fighting despite Kimura’s advantage in size and strength.
Helio Gracie built a big reputation as a Vale Tudo fighter in Brazil, and this torch was passed to his eldest son Rickson. Rickson began his fighting career at the age of 18, when he matched against Casemiro “Rei Zulu” Martins. Zulu was, as customary outweighed Rickson by roughly 50lbs. After a lengthy and exhausting struggle inside the Rickson’s guard, Gracie was eventually able to take Zulu’s back and administer a Rear Naked Choke. Rickson would go on to fight 10 more Vale Tudo matches, and remained undefeated. Although not a traditional BJJ Competitor, Rickson was able to demonstrate time and time again that grappling must be addressed, and must be a primary consideration when achieving victory over your opponent.
The Greatest BJJ Competitor of The Present
At first, Jiu Jitsu fighters seemed unstoppable. Over and over again, Jiu Jitsu fighters demonstrated that a savvy ground fighter will consistently overcome the uninitiated brawler or traditionally focused martial artist. In the early 2000s jiu jitsu gained in popularity. Since then, it is much more common for people to compete in matches that focus on BJJ alone This transition moved Jiu Jitsu away from its Vale Tudo roots and towards the development of a more sophisticated grappling martial art. Today, we have seen a startling progression in a very short period of time. Dean Lister, once an unstoppable force in grappling has given way to the likes of Gordon Ryan and Roger Gracie. Lets take a look at who we see as the greatest contemporary BJJ competitor of all time.
Best Gi Competitor of All Time
Roger Gracie is far and away the greatest contemporary BJJ Competitor of all time. Some may argue that he is the best overall, having some notable wins at ADCC, but he is without a doubt the greatest competitor of all time in the gi. Roger Gracie is the grandson of Carlos Gracie Sr., and son to Mauricio Gomes who competed and trained under Carlos Gracie’s son, Rolls. Roger began training at a very young age, and finished his competitive career with ZERO submission losses. He is both an ADCC and IBJJF Hall of Famer, he has 10 IBJJF championship wins across multiple weight classes and was the first BJJ Competitor to win the IBJJF open weight division 3 times. He has gone on to compete in MMA in the ONE FC, where as of the writing of this article has a record of 8 wins and 2 losses. Take a look below, his record speaks for itself.
76 wins 7 losses, 10 championship wins
- 1st Place ADCC Championship (2005)
- 1st Place IBJJF World Championship (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010)
- 1st Place IBJJF Pan Championship (2006)
- 1st Place IBJJF European Open (2005)
Marcus "Buchecha" Almeida
Marcus Almeida must be considered the runner up. He is far and away the most decorated compettitor in history, amassing 40 trips to the podium across the IBJJF and ADCC. Buchecha did not miss a chance at a medal for the entirety of his 9 year career at blackbelt and was often declared the greatest for this reason. During his career he swept up 2 heavy weight ADCC wins, 7 heavyweight and 7 absolute wins at IBJJF Worlds. In addition to these amazing feats, he racked up 6 wins at the Abu Dhabi world cup, 3 heavyweight and 3 absolute. The list goes on. Buchecha was unstoppable. Very early on, the Jiu Jitsu community was calling Buchecha the GOAT, but Roger disagreed.
They would have their first match up in 2012 at Metamoris ,a 20min submission only match that ended in a draw. The remach was the only thing on everyone’s mind, as it was questioned what would have happened if a ruleset was declared for points. In 2017 that rematch would happen under IBJJF rules. After 7 minutes, Roger took Almeida’s back, and choked him. Settling that between the two greatest, there was only one greatest of all time.
Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida
138 wins, 13 Losses, 17 championship wins
- 1st Place ADCC World Championship (2013, 2017)
- 1st Place IBJJF World Championship (2012 – 2019)
- 1st Place IBJJF World Championship No-Gi (2010 – 2011)
- 1st Place IBJJF Pan Championship (2012)
- 1st Place IBJJF Pro League Grand Prix (2016)
- 1st Place UAEJJF Abu Dhabi Pro (2012 – 2015)
Leandro Lo is another modern BJJ Legend that must be included in the discussion. Leandro holds the IBJJF record for most wins across five weight classes that span from Lightweight up to Heavy Weight. Although he falls short on wins in the absolute division, his prowess and skill as a BJJ Competitor cannot be denied. He is undoubtably one of the pound for pound greatest of all time. Tragically, his life was cut short. On August 7, 2022 when he was shot and killed by an off duty police officer in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
268 wins, 68 Losses, 16 major championship wins
- 1st Place IBJJF World Championship (2012 – 2016, 2018, 2019, 2022)
- 1st Place IBJJF Pans Championship (2012, 2014 – 2018)
- 1st Place IBJJF European Open (2017)
- 1st Place CBJJ Brazilian Nationals (2011, 2012, 2017)
- 1st Place CBJJ Brazilian Nationals No-Gi (2011 – 2012)
- 1st Place Copa Podio Lightweight GP (2011, 2013, 2014 ,2016)
- 1st Place Copa Podio Middleweight GP (2012, 2016)
- 1st Place Copa Podio Heavyweight GP (2016)
- 1st Place UAEJJF Abu Dhabi Pro (2011, 2013 – 2015)
Best Contemporary No Gi Competitor of All Time
Gordon Ryan is without a doubt the greatest No Gi BJJ Competitor of all time. He is a four time EBI champion, two time IBJJF No Gi world champion, and five time ADCC world champion. Ryan has consistently beaten the best in the world, and done so effortlessly. Much controversy has surrounded him for his boastful attitude off of the mats, but his dominance on the mats cannot be contested. As of the writing of this article, Gordon has a 51 win streak against the best in the world. In 2022 he became the first ever ADCC champion to sweep his weight class, and then emerge victorious in a matched Super Fight 24 hours later against Andre Galvao. Like him or not, he is without a doubt the greatest no gi grappler of all time.
153 Wins, 9 losses, 1 submission loss
- ADCC Absolute Title Superfight Winner 2022
- WNO Heavyweight Champion 2022
- 1st Place ADCC World Championship (2017, 2019, 2022)
- 1st Place IBJJF World No-Gi Championship Weight Class and Absolute (2018)
- 1st Place IBJJF Pans No-Gi Championship Weightclass and Absolute 2018
- 1st Place Quintet 3 2018
- 1st Place EBI 6 2016
- 1st Place EBI 8 2016
- 1st Place EBI 11 2017
- 1st Place EBI 14 2017
- 1st Place Kinektic 1 2019
Marcelo Garcia, also known by his nickname Marcelinho was born in rural part of Brazil called Formiga. First a student of Karate, and then Judo, Marcelo eventually found his way to BJJ as an adolescent. He trained hard and at his first competition was entered into the absolute division as well as his weight class. At the end of the day, he had won both defeating an opponent who weighted nearly 300lbs to clinch the absolute devision. Marcelo then became famous for his performance at the absolute level, becoming the first person to win ADCC at hiis weight class 4 times. Marcelo an ADCC Hall of famer – here we pay tripute to him.
Marcelo “Marcelinho” Garcia
Marcelo Garcia 85w 17, 9 major championship wins, 4 ADCC no gi wins
- 1st Place IBJJF World Champion (2004, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011)
- 1st Place IBJJF Pan Championship (2007)
- 1st Place ADCC (2003, 2005, 2007, 2011)
- 1st Place CBJJ Brazilian Nationals (2004, 2006)
Andre Galvao is a tremendous grappler and athlete. Andre is a multiple gold medalist at ADCC in his weightclass and absolute divisions, as well as a 4 time SuperFight champion. Across the ADCC, Abu Dhabi World Cup and IBJJF tournaments, he has amassed 32 Gold medals. During the height of his career, Andre struck gold with 27 wins in a row in a streak lasting 5 years. His dominance of the sport would be brought to a halt when he lost to Gordon Ryan in 2022. Truely a great competitor with a record that reflects this.
157W / 28L 8 Major No Gi Wins
- ADCC Superfight Winner 2011,2013,2015, 2017
- 1st Place ADCC World Championship 2013, 2015, 2017
- 1st Place ADCC South American Championships 2007, 2009
The Best BJJ Competitor of The Future
Tye Ruotolo is a an undeniable talent. Born in 2002, Ruotolo, along with his twin brother Kade, started training in BJJ at the age of four. Under the expert mentorship of BJJ legends Andre Galvao and his team at Atos Jiu-Jitsu HQ in San Diego, California, Tye emerged as a formidable BJJ practitioner, earning his purple belt at only 16 years old. He made waves in his early career, exhibiting advanced skills in numerous competitions and became renowned for his dynamic style and relentless pace. His impressive performances in competitions like the ADCC Trials, Polaris, and Fight 2 Win have secured his position as one of the most exciting prospects in BJJ. With his exceptional talent and commitment, Tye Ruotolo is primed to reach new heights in his promising career.
Kade Ruotolo, twin brother of Tye Ruotolo, is also a rising star in the competitive realm of BJJ. Kade commenced his BJJ journey at the same time as Tye, at the age of four, also under the guidance of legendary BJJ figure Andre Galvao. Recognized for his exceptional agility and strategic mind, Kade also earned his purple belt when he was 16. His remarkable talent became more evident as he demonstrated superior performance in numerous prestigious tournaments, including the ADCC Trials and Fight 2 Win. Known for his intricate techniques and tenacious competitiveness, Kade has made a name for himself alongside his twin in the BJJ. With a promising career ahead, Kade Ruotolo continues to push the boundaries of the sport and inspire new generations of BJJ athletes.
Helena Crevar, a young prodigy in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, started training at eight and has consistently taken on opponents of higher ranks, a testament to her indomitable spirit and skill. Born in Las Vegas to Serbian parents, Crevar trains under Professor Hector Vasquez at Cobrinha BJJ and balances her homeschooling between training sessions. She is also recognized for her distinctive fashion sense in grappling sets, often seen competing with signature pigtails. Helena, alongside her mother, plans to launch a unique line of grappling apparel. More than just a competitor, she is a vocal advocate for equality in BJJ, pushing for improved opportunities and better parity for female athletes. Looking towards the future, Helena has a vision beyond competition. She enjoys conducting seminars, creating instructional videos, and aspires to open her own gym someday. We hope to see her continued success.
In conclusion, the world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is populated by exceptional competitors who have made significant strides in the sport. From the past, we celebrate Helio Gracie’s indomitable spirit and innovative technique that became the bedrock of modern BJJ. His legacy continues to inspire generations of competitors and fundamentally shapes the sport as we know it today.
In the present, we admire the prowess and skill of icons like Gordon Ryan and Roger Gracie. They exemplify the endless potential of BJJ, with an unparalleled level of mastery, dominance, and tactical brilliance. The monumental achievements of Ryan and Gracie are truly a testament to the evolution of the sport and serve as an inspiration to both current practitioners and future prospects.
As we cast our eyes towards the future, it’s impossible not to notice talents like the Ruotolo brothers, and the young phenom Helena Crevar. They are sure to continue amazing us for years to come.
The narrative of BJJ is one of constant evolution, where the past informs the present, and the present inspires the future. It is a story of sheer resilience, innovation, and relentless pursuit of mastery. As we move forward, the legacy of past and present icons will undoubtedly continue to illuminate the path for future stars and many others yet to emerge. This dynamic blend of history, current trends, and promising future makes BJJ a truly captivating art to watch, practice, and admire.